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Sam Davidson's blog

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Destroy the Box

I don’t need you to merely think outside the box.

I need you to destroy it.

The box needs to be crushed. Crumbled. Shredded. Detonated. Obliterated. Find an empty field, take the box out there late one afternoon, and put it out of its misery.

You can’t merely think outside of the box because eventually, fatigue and safety will tell you to return to it. "Just this once, take the easy route. Do less work. It'll be our little secret."

For this reason alone you must destroy the box. You must cut off the route and burn all bridges that lead back to it. That route is so easy to travel, absent of obstacles or criticism. Anyone can see how effortless it is to harken back to a time when thinking inside the box was acceptable.

Think outside the box if you dare and you’ll soon breathe the free air that comes without confinement and expectation. And then you’ll realize that to return to a simpler time would be the highest treason of self.

You were not meant to think inside or stay inside a box. Especially a box not of your making. A box "they" told you about. That "they" put you in to watch over and control you. You do not need their box. And what you do not need may as well be gone. Dead. Destroyed. Finished.

So do yourself and all your future work a favor and the second you’re willing to leave the box, press that detonation timer. Hide far enough away to be shielded from the shrapnel and watch its glorious explosion and decimation.

Then, get up, and move forward. But don’t look back. You’re not going there.

The Finish Line Isn’t Where You Think It Is

As is our Sunday tradition a few times a month, my daughter and I went on a hike.

And it took forever.

It always does nowadays. As much as we both love being outside, she is in no hurry to cover the three or four miles we aim to do. It’s a stark contrast to my trail runs on alternating weeks, when I want to cover the same terrain, roots and all, as quickly as possible.

But with her, the point isn’t to finish at a certain clip. The point is to just be on the trail.

She and I are looking at different finish lines. Mine is back at the car, three-and-a-half miles later. Hers is to point out turtles and twisty vines, to wonder out loud how many leaves are in the forest, and to ask me all the questions she can imagine until I run out of ways to say “I don’t know."

The point is not the point

Somewhere along our life's journey, we each begin to focus on a singular outcome. Maybe it’s something simple in a growingly complex world. Maybe keeping score is more fun if there’s only one metric to which we compare ourselves to others. So we start to focus on and measure our work and life in terms of:

  • Money
  • Speed
  • Longevity
  • Clicks
  • Sales
  • Square footage
  • Accounts
  • Awards

The (a) point is not the point. Points are the point. Life is too important to be lived quickly. Nature is too necessary to not be noticed. People are too fragile to be overlooked. All of the elements we badly need in life could never be counted with a calculator.

So maybe we digress by default. We push past the hard stuff (relationships, depth, meaning, religion, mystery) and keep score artificially. At least then we know where we stand.

But sadly, where we stand is on a fragile podium of our own making, one built on arbitrary measurements that neglect the very finish lines we need most - the biggest, most complex ones that keep moving the more we live.

Someone sold us a finish line we don’t want (or need)

I’m the worst person to meet with if you’re a financial advisor or planner. You’ll ask me where I see myself several years from now, how much financial security I want in retirement, and what I need to have saved up by the time I’m 65. I’ll listen to your questions until you’re finished and then I’ll laugh, tell you I have no idea nor concern, and tell you that retirement is an outdated concept, one I’m not racing toward, and not a way that I keep score.

You’ll protest, we’ll chat about it a bit, I’ll thank you for coffee and then you’ll be on your way to the next sales prospect. I’m not interested in running this race.

Well-meaning adults told us (some of us when we were very young) that there was a clear path to follow that consisted of various steps that included making good grades, going to college, getting a job, climbing a ladder, getting promoted, earning a nice living, owning a home, and then doing all of this in increasing measure until we died.

And so went the story of a happy life.

Many of us bought into this race we needed to run. (Many of us still do.)

But this race misses a lot. Its contrite finish line leaves so many of us wondering why the hell we’re running this race so fast. Isn’t there more?

Yes. But it’s not the race you think it is. It’s not even the race you may know how to run. But it’s the only race your inmost being was born to run.

It’s a race bigger than any singular finish line, bigger than what your parents told you, and bigger than your job.

The finish line keeps moving. And more and more of them pop up day after day. Some you’ll decide to stop chasing, and that’s ok. The point isn’t to get to the end of the race.

The point is to run the race with everything you’ve got.

Chase something big

Go start a company. But don’t let someone tell you the point is to make as much money as possible. Instead, breathe life into your idea and its people, watching as the goal isn’t just to amass material wealth, but also to train people how to work hard, to please customers by listening to their needs, or to bring ethics to a place where they are rare.

Go fall in love. But don’t only think the only worthy end is to die beside each other at 90. Maybe you simply love each other for a season, teaching the other about vulnerability and honesty, leaving the relationship wiser and more rich, your heart ready for someone or something else when the season is right.

Go to school. But understand that the point can’t merely be a diploma some years down the road. You’ll also need to learn how to learn, what pursuits are worth your intellect and attention. You want to sit with opposing thoughts, confront someone whose worldview is too small, and sit at the feet of those who are wiser, whose wisdom has come after years of striving.

All of our races - our life’s pursuits - may start heading toward one finish line. But then along that route, we learn that the point of that race wasn’t to finish it. It was just to start it. To get to the first distance marker. To meet someone else along that same course and then veer off with them, hand in hand.

Maybe the point of this race was to show us another race running parallel to ours and so we hop over to that lane. And then we realize we are running in the wrong direction, so we stop and start over, now destined to where we want to go. The finish line is further off, blurrier than we thought, but that’s ok. At least we’re running.

If the race is only about speed, even if you win, you miss out on what could have been an incredible journey. The races that are just about speed usually aren’t worth running anyway.

Sam Davidson Comment
A Lifetime Mindset

What is a decision we could make that would be good for us in the short-term, but may not pay big dividends long-term?

What is a decision we could make that may not have any short-term benefits, but would be huge for us long-term?

I asked these hypothetical questions of our Batch core leadership team earlier this week. It was a chance for folks to weigh in - given their assorted vantage points - on what they thought could be of most benefit to the company.

But later I realized I left out another timeframe: lifetime.

Short-term vs. Long-term

We’re trained to think in twos most of the time. Right vs. wrong. Left vs. right. Now vs. later. Him vs. her. Us vs. them.

But the reality is that so many issues, companies, and ideas are more complex than any binary system. Short-term vs. long-term is neither short- nor long-sighted. It’s incomplete. We need another viewpoint. We need a lifetime viewpoint.

Start with 100 years, not 100 days

There will be a new president elected this fall. When he or she takes office, they’ll announce some kind of 100-day plan. This is customary. But what if they announced a 100-year plan? What if on inauguration day, the new president said in his or her speech:

I’ll announce my 100-day plan tomorrow. But it’ll just be a drop in the bucket to my administration’s 100-year plan. Sure - we can only hope to be around for 8% of that plan. But America needs a big, bold idea for where it wants to be in 2117. Otherwise, if we only focus on the next 100 days, we’ll just make short-term decisions at the expense of a lifetime of prosperity for all Americans.

(Note to candidates  - you can totally steal the above paragraph an use it. I just ask for unlimited use of Air Force One as compensation.)

Phil Libin, founder of Evernote talks about his company being around in 100 years and how that shapes decision making. They make decisions that aren’t just important today, but will be in a century. When you have that mindset, you choose differently and you even establish a different set of criteria that benefits the greatest amount of people.

Deciding for a lifetime

I’ve begun thinking more and more about lifetime decisions - not just what is best for me between now and December 31, or even between now and when I’m 40 in a few years. What decisions can and should I make now that will shape the rest of my life? My daughter’s life?

Some of these decisions are easy. I buy clothes now that will last me for years rather than what’s simply in style right now. I eschew certain purchases and frivolities as I pay down debt and hope to fix up an old house one day.

At work, I can help our team think about how we service customers so we can keep them for life. I will sacrifice short-term and even long-term financial gain if we get lifetime financial security as a result. Batch wants customers who will shop with us for their lifetimes, thus our policies and procedures reflect this. We’re not only focused on being profitable this fiscal year; we’re trying to build value for life.

But some decisions aren’t as easy. Excitement creeps in. Trends and FOMO trick us all. Pleasure lies to us, masquerading as fulfillment. Thrill dresses up as happiness. And a lot of the time, we - myself most of all - wind up picking what’s easy and immediate (short-term) over what’s legacy-building and meaningful (lifetime).

How to decide

I really wish I were brave, smart, and strong enough to choose lifetime over short- and long-term every time. I’m getting better, but am by no means fully there. The below list is incomplete (I’d love to hear your ideas on what you’d add), but it’s a start. Maybe these reminders can help us all decide better as we strive to leave things better than when we found them.

  • Would I want this decision discussed once I’m gone (out of this position or even done with this life)? If so, how would I want it remembered?
  • Am I writing a check (figuratively or literally) that my children or their children won’t be able to cash?
  • This decision is planting a seed of some kind. Am I sure what will ultimately grow from it?
  • Who and how many people will benefit from this decades from now? A century from now?
  • Am I setting up my replacement for the most possible success and meaning?

What would you add?

Can kicking is a fun distraction but a terrible legacy.

Sam DavidsonComment
You Can’t Plant Roots

“I want to find a place I can plant some roots for a while.”

I heard this line recently when talking with a friend. She’s ready to travel less and live more deeply in a community she can call home. And while I know exactly what she’s meaning to say, the stark reality is this:

You can’t plant roots. You can only plant seeds and see if roots result. (Click to tweet.)

Roots are deep, taking years and even centuries to develop. They moor. They reach deep into the ground, running parallel and perpendicular and every which way, searching for water and nutrients. Roots are the result; seeds are the cause.

You can’t walk into your local garden center and walk out with a packet of roots to plant.

The only things you can plant in your life are seeds.

The seed of a conversation with a new neighbor. The seed of a first date. The seed of a new business idea. The seed of a coffee meeting facilitated by a mutual introduction. The seed of checking out that new band or restaurant or brewery or city park. The seed of a different workout routine, the seed of walking an alternate way to work, the seed of applying for another job.

Then, with time and effort, some of these seeds break through. Eventually, they want light and they burst through dark soil in search of what makes them grow. Meanwhile, these seeds are also reaching deep - deep inside you and others - to stretch out roots that anchor them and give them the energy, strength and confidence to sprout and thrive.

We all want - and need - roots. But roots take time. And hard work. And deliberate effort.

But any breakthrough and blossoming we experience above the surface only happens because of the mooring occurring below it.

So slow down. Stop trying to plant roots. It’s impossible.

Rather, continue the repetitive work of planting seeds. Eventually, you’ll look around and rest happily in the shade of community and love, made possible by the roots that resulted from all that seed scattering.

Sam DavidsonComment
Earn or Sacrifice?

A question has been haunting me of late: Do I want to be known for what you earned? Or what I sacrificed?

In other words, do I hope to be known for what I achieved, or what I deferred?

Maybe it’s the distinction between the capitalist and the soldier. The capitalist seeks to accumulate and earn. The soldier to give her life or health in service of a higher aim.

Or the difference between the businessman and the priest. One working for a check in order to add to a notion of self. The other working in order to deny the notion of self.

I shot messages to a few friends about this idea, to see where they stood. Some answered based on religious influence and sense of duty. Others answered a bit more broadly, choosing a third or even fourth way to be known. (Fair enough; I can appreciate people who answer questions bigger than the ones asked.)

But, ultimately, where I’m landing is that I don’t think these two can cleanly be separated. You want to earn something big? You’ll need to give up a few things to get there (friendships, time, hobbies, health). You want to sacrifice something meaningful? Then you’ll earn things when you do (kudos, honor, pride, wealth).

What’s your driving motivator, then?

I know people who led with the earning motivator. They wanted to amass wealth, status, and influence. They worked hard to earn it. Each day, when they woke up, they pledged allegiance to this earning potential and made decisions throughout their day that drove them closer to their goal of accumulating and amassing. As they climbed, sacrifices had to be made of course, but their names became synonymous with greatness or wealth or whatever else they earned.

Others I’ve known wanted to first be known by what it was they gave up. They abstained and fasted, withdrew and quit certain behaviors, routines, or pathways because it didn’t meet their personal goals and objectives. Of course, among a select group, they were then honored for this sacrifice, earning esteem from others. But, their chief drive was in the giving, not in the getting. They lived to give, to give up, to give to.

Where, then, is your strive directed? Your deepest efforts and greatest ambition? To earn or to sacrifice?

Ultimately, the question points to a broader truth: you will be known for something. What will it be?

And how can you shape it? The choice is in your hands, after all.

Sam DavidsonComment
What's In Your Bones?

Have you ever been to a place that’s in your bones? A home, a childhood destination, a vacation locale? Something that has embedded itself into your very being so that there’s no separating you from it?

I spent last week on a cruise to Alaska. We got the chance to get off the boat a few times, going on tours and meeting local residents. There is no shortage of shows about the wilds and peculiarities of Alaska, so it’s only obvious that people who live there merge with the place itself.

Some of that place creeped into my bones a bit, surprising me some. I'm already planning a trip back next summer.

Those of us who are transient and move from here to there for work or who have moved several times throughout life may miss this chance, even if we do have a feeling that we’d like to be location dependent.

It’s unmistakable - when you meet someone who has a tale that is bone-deep, borne in them due to longevity and origin, or tumult and struggle. Stories like that can’t be bought at a gift shop or completed in a 36-hour turn. Those stories have to be lived. They have to be earned over time.

I don’t think I have place stories in my bones yet. Even growing up in Nashville and living the near entirety of my adult life here, it’s not in my bones. I like it here. My people are here. My companies are here. My community is here. But this place is not in my bones. (Yet.)

If anywhere could be, it’s a rundown farm in northeastern Mississippi. There is a picture on my wall of me and my grandfather, him holding my hand as two horses follow along. Us behind a barbed wire fence, out for an evening stroll, finishing chores before dinner. I spent so many childhood summers at that farm - Christmases, too. I remember the smell of the humid pecan house, the creak of those floors and the rat-a-tat-rat-a-tat of the shelling machine. Strangers would pull up and buy pecans by the pound from my grandfather.

When he wasn’t around, I explored. I found the junkyard on site, the place where old cars and tractors went to die. Weeds and roots grew through engine blocks and wound around rear view mirrors. Old leather cracked under years of heat and cold, rubber tires hard as stone now.

There was a garden, a wood pile, a creek, and patio. My great-grandmother’s house was about thirty paces away from my grandfather’s, and they both lived in those homes until each of them died.

I don’t go back much now. My youngest cousin occupies the house. The cows are all sold and the horses long gone. Some of the pasture has been parceled off and sold by my uncle and it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen next.

As I meet people, I’m starting to ask them what’s in their bones. It may be a place. Or a person. An idea. A dream, a job, an ethic, a hope, a cause. I believe we all need something to get into our bones and camp out there, changing our very DNA in order to shape a future that we are uniquely suited for. (Click to tweet.)

I think this is what it means to do the very thing we’re born for.

It's said that when you feel something "in your bones", you know it to be true, even if you can't explain why. The origins of the phrase are murky at best, but when I hear it, I think about bone marrow. 

Your bone marrow is essential to your entire functioning, from a biological standpoint. Your bone marrow is what produces some of the most basic building blocks of your immune system. It's quite literally keeping you going.

What keeps you going?

What’s in my bones

I think effort is in my bones. I love my gym where I work out regularly because the tagline is “Easy is not an option.” And while I loathe certain exercises and my body screams for easy sometimes, I know that deep down, my bones won’t have it. Ten more sit-ups, six more minutes of cardio, 40 more burpees - I get off on putting forth effort. I keep going by keeping going.

I’ve never started a company that’s easy. I’ve been stressed more than I’ve ever wanted to be and I hope that any work I do in the future doesn’t reach the levels of agony and despair I reached last year. But I don’t mind hard work. It’s in my bones - putting forth the mental or physical energy to accomplish or establish something important.

Adventure is there, too. The chance to discover something new. Being outside and sweating, striving, going to where some people have never been. I like to find an uncharted course and blaze a trail. Maybe this is why Alaska spoke to my soul as it did last week.

If we get the chance to meet, I won’t ask you for your resume or for you to list a set of beliefs. Rather, I’ll ask what’s in your bones. Sure, you can certainly fake it, but gimme a while and I’ll see how you live. Your body can’t do anything without your bones so soon enough the truth will come out by the life you live.

Live deeply and boldly. Your bones don’t want anything else.

Sam DavidsonComment
Location Dependent

I hear it time and again over coffee and while speaking on college campuses: “I just want a location independent job. I want something I can do from anywhere so I can travel and see the world."

There is no shortage, it seems, of people who want the same. Do a quick online search and “location independence” will bring up eBooks and blog posts by people who have claimed to achieved such and now spend their time Instagramming their lives from remote locales, all while apparently “killing it”, making a ton of money, and collecting the photos to prove it.

The king of this growing tribe is Tim Ferris, whose “4-Hour Workweek” is still the definitive manual for working less and seeing the world more. And while Tim has gone on to build an empire and worked hard to do so in the process, I’m wondering if the glorification of location independence is sacrificing depth on the altar of cheap thrills.

It’s time to make the case for location dependence.

Fly away with me

For the better part of the last decade, I felt most at peace high in the sky, locked away in an aluminum tube (you may know it as an airplane) cruising at 30,000 ft. on my way to give a speech. I worked from the skies, SkyClubs, hotel rooms, coffee shops, and rental cars. I could do my work (speaking) from anywhere.

I wore this like a badge of honor. Scroll back through my social media feeds a few years and you’ll see smug captions that accompany plane wing shots or show me on sandy shores after entertaining a crowd for an hour on a stage.

But the truth? I was lonely (I didn’t have the self-awareness or emotional ability to recognize this at the time). My quest for attention turned into a quest for frequent flier miles and the dopamine hit that came with their accumulation meant that I could very proudly claim to be location independent.

Look at me! I’ve made it! I can work from anywhere!

If you can work from anywhere, be careful. You’ll soon wind up belonging to nowhere.

Opportunity calls when you stay put

You think opportunity is knocking and asking you to flit away for a season? To do yoga in India in between client emails? You think that now is the time to backpack across the Andes while you drop ship nutritional supplements? While these may indeed be the deepest longings of your heart, make sure that the knocking you hear isn’t something closer to home. Just because the sound of opportunity is faint doesn’t mean it’s because the knocking is coming from a thousand miles away. (Click to tweet.)

While amid the busiest speaking and travel season of my life, Batch began to grow. What was meant to be a part-time hobby for me and two friends suddenly had the chance to blossom into a legacy company. But to achieve this, I couldn’t manage it from the road. I couldn’t serve as an example of dedication to colleagues and employees if my head was in the clouds and my feet weren’t firmly planted on the ground, packing boxes or going on sales calls when needed.

As we began to raise money to create something big, one investor turned us down saying, “Your scale doesn’t depend on technology. It depends on people. You have a physical company - humans are needed to put items in boxes and service customers. We’re looking for companies that don’t need people."

I have never been happier to receive a rejection from an investor. I’m glad I run a company that needs people.

Location independence has its distractions; location dependence has its relationships.

Travel, but know why

By all means, travel. Get a ticket. See the world. Create experiences for yourself. Take in views. Make memories. Try new food. Smile at strangers.

But know why you’re doing all this. If you’re escaping a reality you don’t want, then work to create one you do. Don’t assume that unplugging from true community will offer you the chance to find yourself. I think we find ourselves the minute we begin to share who we are with others (this is a lesson I didn’t learn until recently). That’s tough to do when all we can manage is to tweet what the sunset looks like in Sydney tonight.

So, go. But make sure you know where you can come back to. Yes - you want to go places that take your breath away for a moment. But you also need a place to catch your breath for a lifetime. You need a people and a place that is yours, that can breathe with and for you when needed. You need to depend on a location.

This artwork hangs in my home. Just last week my daughter asked what it meant. I tried my best to explain: “It means that whenever we’re together, we can feel like we’re home. Home is a safe place - a place where you always belong, where you can be yourself, and where people love you. And it doesn’t matter what a house looks like or how big it is. What really matters is that I love you, that you love me, and that if can remember that, we can feel safe and that we are where we need to be."

Ron Swanson knows

My main man Ron Swanson (of Parks and Rec fame) knows all about staying put for the sake of belonging. He drops some wisdom on Leslie Knope about a guy she’s dating, but with whom she can’t quite connect.

Swanson nails it thusly: "He’s a tourist. He vacations in people’s lives, takes pictures, puts them in his scrapbook, and moves on. All he’s interested in are stories. Basically, he’s selfish. And you’re not. That’s why you don’t like him."

Tourist is a temporary designation. Community is a permanent one. The former you get by going; the latter you get by staying. (Click to tweet.)

How to be location dependent

If you, too, want to experience the deep meaning of belonging, you can. It’s easy. Pick any of the following and dive in. Soon, you’ll realize that your life and work depend on a place and you’ll never be happier:

  • Fall in love
  • Become friends with your neighbors
  • Join a nonprofit board
  • Adopt a pet
  • Start a company
  • Get involved at your church
  • Have children
  • Run for office
  • Create a life you don’t need to run away from

Then, go live into this Walt Whitman quote, now and evermore:

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.

Sam Davidson Comment
Climate vs. Temperature

The best thing to do when it’s 99 degrees in Nashville is to fill up a baby pool, put some beers on ice and then invite all your neighbors and their families over for a few hours.

At least this is what we did last week in my part of town. It looks like we’re in for a long, hot summer here in Nashville, with temperatures already reaching in the upper 90’s with a steady dose of thick humidity most of the day. And while this sounds miserable (I had a friend half-jokingly question why anyone is moving here when she saw how hot it had been), those of us who have been here a while know this is the price we pay for wonderful springs and autumns and we'll make sure we have a good game plan for the next 60 days.

The difference between temperature and climate

It would be easy for any tourist to visit Nashville right now and just assume it’s muggy and hot all the time. And while it may have been muggy and hot for the entire time they were here, any quick research shows that it’s not always so unbearable outside. Wait a while - even until the sun sets - and you’ll see this is a lovely place to be.

Such is the case for many of us with various responsibilities and roles we occupy. We’re in a season of busy or a time of stress and we begin to think that it’s always like this, that nothing will change, and that we’re stuck with no viable options.

  • It seems like our newborn will never stop crying or actually sleep through the night.
  • This project is taking forever and the client will never be satisfied.
  • Our partner feels distant and we’ll never rekindle the romance we once shared.
  • The house is falling apart and it sucks to live in a money pit.

In tough situations, we can’t mistake the temperature (what is happening right now) for the climate (what is the overwhelming trend).

As an entrepreneur who errs on the side of optimism, it’s easy for me to think that a week of great sales means we’ll have a banner year. But, of course, I’ve got to step back and realize that all I need to do is be thankful for the unexpected uptick, not revise all forecasts so I can charter that private jet for our corporate retreat.

I ask the same of my employees. If someone offers up in our weekly meeting, “We sold a ton of candles. We should stock up and buy 600 more,” then before I place a PO with Southern Firefly, I examine sales data during the period in question. It may have only felt like we sold “a ton” of candles because this person just happened to process four orders in a row with candles. While she was helping other customers or after her shift ended, much more happened overall. A review of the data tells us that candles were only 2% of our sales that weekend. No need to outlay so much cash when the demand is actually less than it feels.

You’ve got similar situations at your job, in your home, or with your nonprofit organization. It’s great to hear from customers or employees, but our job as leaders is to balance how the temperature feels to them with how the climate is trending overall.

How to keep the climate in mind

The dumbest politicians to me are those who want to deny climate change by bringing a snowball onto the floor when it’s cold in February. Such an act mistakes the temperature for the climate while also misunderstanding the climate in its entirety (of course it’s cold in February - that’s the climate trend!).

So, if we are to lead our teams well so that they understand to deal with the temperature while not losing their grasp on the climate, we must remember these three things.

Look at the data
When we launched Batch and while it was in its infancy, my co-founders and I would need to make quick, critical decisions. At the time, we had very little to go on. So, we jokingly came up with rationale behind our decisions that we termed “hunch-based marketing.” How should we price this new product? Where should we market it? How long should we run the coupon offer? Each question we asked ourselves was answered by a hunch - a gut feeling - because we didn’t have any data to go on.

And while this may have to work early on for your new project, be sure to look at data as soon as you have it. This will be our 4th holiday season at Batch. We now have three full years of holiday sales numbers to look at, synthesize, and base predictions off of. We’ll certainly take into account what’s new and hot (temperature), but we’ll let the numbers (the climate) guide us.

Data will take away how something feels in a given moment and remind you of what’s happening longer term beyond your small world.

Compare apples to oranges
Not all data are created equal. While inventory or marketing decisions can be made with the assistance of spreadsheets, those of us trying to lead with heart, mind, and soul will also need to look at that which can’t be measured with a chart.

If things seem slow or you feel like the wheels are going to come off at any second, don’t merely turn to your P&L statement or look at your cash flow projections. Also consider things like employee morale, company reputation, or even your personal overall happiness level. While these intangibles won’t pay the lease, they are important indicators of climate. These factors also have to be examined to determine overall company climate or else you’ll soon create a climate where numbers matter more than people. Busy seasons can feel like that already; you don’t want that to become the overarching climate lest you lose people who are important to you and your success.

Take time away
This is the hardest thing for entrepreneurs and leaders to do (yours truly included). We’re in the middle of so much and so much depends on us, we can’t possibly take our hands off things for even a second, right?

If that’s true, then guess what? You’re creating a work climate that always requires you. And my guess is that will be unhealthy for you, your family, your team, and your customers. While there may be seasons where you have no choice but to be all in at all hours, that temperature cannot become the climate. Otherwise, you and your organization are doomed. Our companies cannot rest on the back of a single person. Systems become unstable and catastrophe results.

Find a time during a particular season where you can step back. Remove yourself from the blazing heat of the current temperature and find space to focus on the climate. Remind yourself (and your people) that while it’s hot now, winter is coming.

Leaders play the long game

Managers play the short game and are worried about the temperature (this month’s sales; this quarter’s returns). Leaders play the long game and are worried about the climate (what legacy is being developed; what a business’ reputation is).

At Batch, I hope to create a 100-year company that supports 100 other 100-year companies. There’s no way this happens if I am only worried about tomorrow’s operating margin per vertical.

I moved into my current house nine months ago and didn’t know anyone on my street. Last week, when it was so god-awful hot, I co-hosted the regular Thirsty Thursday with my next door neighbor and our yards were packed with new friends I’ve made.

My social and emotional temperature looked bleak last September. But now I realize that my climate is thriving. (Breathe, Sam. It's all going to be okay.)

Sam DavidsonComment
We Are All Works in Progress

Last Friday, I ate for three hours straight.

I was honored to be asked to serve as a judge for the annual Pick Tennessee products competition. My duty was simple: listen as food makers across the state pitched the benefits and highlights of their products to a panel of judges in hopes of being named Product of the Year. In five-minute blocks for an entire afternoon, I sampled cookies, sauces, granola, pies, biscuits, and coffee. It was a tough job (but someone had to do it).

Some of the makers had been honing their craft for years and had distribution in as many as 400 stores. Others were just beginning and were printing bottle labels at home, rather than as part of some major production in a large-scale facility. For the panel, however, longevity or reach didn’t matter. What did matter was a commitment to producing the best possible item you could and a dedication to keep getting better.

Nothing is fully baked

No matter how long we’ve been at something, if we’re leading or creating something we believe in, we want it to be the best it can be. But no hero of ours achieved excellence on the first try. Just because we humans tend to remember legacy as the final product of a life well lived, we mistakenly think that the greats were always great. In reality, the greats became great because they decided not to quit when they were really terrible.

The artist trying to make it faces this same dilemma. Here’s Ira Glass, host of This American Life articulating the tension between the art you want to make and the art you’re actually making:

The internet has said (I’ve heard several people reference this; I’m not gonna scour the entire web to find the originator) that we should never compare our start to someone else’s middle (or even their end). If I’m a new entrepreneur, why would I compare where I am now to where Richard Branson or Oprah Winfrey is now? Of course I’m nowhere close. While I can aspire to those heights, I know I’m not there yet. Better for me to stay on my level, keep getting better, and be open to guidance and improvement.

We need works in progress as role models

One of my most popular keynote speeches deals with the topic of young people and entrepreneurship. Whether it’s current college students launching a company while living on campus in a residence hall, or helping a large corporation understand why so many of their Millennial employees eventually want to begin their own venture, I encourage my listeners to help young people embrace entrepreneurship by steering them away from idolizing the likes of Zuckerberg or Beyonce.

We all know of those who have reached the pinnacle of success in their given field. Whether they write code or song lyrics, today’s media is saturated with success stories. But the worlds of leadership and entrepreneurship are bigger than mega-success.

  • There’s the local dentist who runs a thriving practice and is home for dinner with his family each night.
  • There’s the financial planner who launched her own firm and gets the chance to meet exciting new people every week.
  • There’s the honey farmer who simply wanted a job that allowed her to raise her daughter in the country.
  • There’s the candle maker who dreamed of a job where he’d get to spend more time with his wife.

I could go on. The above entrepreneurs are all people I personally know; I could list a hundred more. But each time I get to meet and listen to the ups and downs of any entrepreneur, I freely share my struggles and successes, too. While it feels great to get congratulated for making headlines, the reality is that it’s more important just to make progress.

Make sure your problems keep changing

When people ask how things at Batch are, I’ve stopped saying, “Great!” or “Busy.” Instead, I tell them that I’m thankful to still be on this ride, in the driver’s seat, with a bus full of people I love to work with. I also add, “The problems we have this year are not the problems we had last year.” To me, this is a good thing and proves we’re getting better as a team, living into our collective identity as a work in progress.

  • Last year, we had to figure out how to scale back in markets that weren’t thriving. This year, we’re figuring our how to keep up with rapid growth in markets that are working.
  • Last year, we had to figure out how to deliver quickly using a third party provider. This year, we’ve had to figure out how to fulfill everything in house.
  • Last year, we had figure out how to drive people to our retail storefront. This year, we’re adjusting forecasts due to growing demand while also being aware of overall reliance on a single vertical.

And again, I could go on. Just because you grow and have more time under your belt doesn’t mean your problems disappear. Being a constant work in progress means problems will arise time and again and if you want to keep climbing toward better, then you simply can’t give up when you know you’re not as good as you can be.

How to work on progress

Whether you’re trying to lead a large team or you’re burning the midnight oil of a venture that is yours alone, we must remember that all of us are works in progress. Perfection isn’t the goal. Progress is.

Three ways that I remind myself I’m not done yet and that my team still has work to do.

Seek feedback
Ask and you shall receive. While the highest standards that will ever be placed upon me will be those I create, I also ask for feedback from a select group that I trust to be honest with me and also want me to be the best entrepreneur and CEO I can. When they speak up and let me know how I can be better, I know they see me as a work in progress and want me to keep improving.

Resolve to get better
Once I hear how I can do better, I’ve got to commit to taking the steps to put those ideas into action. It’s called being a “work in progress” because you’ve got work to do. So don’t take your feedback and ideas and sit on them; get busy trying new things, pushing yourself into new areas and measuring how it’s all shaking out.

Feedback and resolve are not singular activities that happen once a year during a review or downtime. They are constant exercises that any leader must undertake on his or her journey toward company and self-improvement. So, be sure to ask for feedback and then make commitments based on it regularly. Perhaps this happens once a month at a routinely scheduled meeting or even more often based upon the speed of your company’s work and how it’s changing as things grow. Pay attention to all the ways you and your organization are works in progress and you’ll ensure that you actually are working toward progress.

Let’s be nice to each other, ok?

Remembering that you are a work in progress will also equip you with the grace and patience you need to work well with others, be they direct reports, colleagues, supervisors, vendors, customers, or investors. No one is done yet - nor should we expect them to be. This life is long, and some seasons are really difficult. The beauty is that it keeps going and we’ll all be better tomorrow than we are today.

Sam DavidsonComment
Leaders and Love

The Avett Brothers tell us:

Dumbed down and numbed by time and age //
Your dreams to catch the world, the cage //
The highway sets the traveler's stage //
All exits look the same

Three words that became hard to say //
I and love and you

The big thing for me and my sixth grade classmates wasn't kissing your girlfriend or boyfriend under the monkey bars. It was saying "I love you." Liberated by the magic of the telephone (back when call waiting was a luxury), I remember calling my sixth-grade girlfriend every Friday night. After all, I wouldn't see her again until Monday (going on dates wasn't really a thing). And after a few weeks' worth of these calls, we closed one of the phone sessions with a reciprocal "I love you."

I remember feeling so grown up, mimicking what I'd seen my parents do on their calls to each other. I walked into school the following Monday to tell my best friend Drew the news (he'd been telling his girlfriend Jessica the same for over a month). Newsflash: things were serious.

This four-letter word - LOVE - does that. It makes things serious, especially at work. 

Love vs. Fear

Fast forward 20+ years to a chamber of commerce event I attended. The keynote speaker was taking input from the audience on what companies they loved to do business with. Cries rang out of local and national companies and reasonings and the speaker then (weakly) challenged us to similarly grow a business people love.

Not so fast, haircut. Love is not a word that belongs in our corporate vernacular. Right?

Think about it:

  • When was the last time your boss told you she loved you? Or even loved your work? 
  • When have you told a colleague you love him? Or his contributions?
  • Have you let a customer know you love them? Or their recurring loyalty to your products and services? 

We're all fearful of saying the word "love" in our board meetings and stand ups, mainly because ever since attorneys got their hands on our employee manuals, we're scared that sharing a feeling as serious as love will land us in the hot water of HR's crosshairs. 

We've replaced love with fear.

The worst companies have been doing this for decades. They're selling products that appeal to customers' fears rather than their love. A fear of attack, a fear of solitude, a fear of missing out - these all peddle products and bring out the worst in us. Imagine if company leadership today took a different approach and shared how their offerings helped you love your family more or show love to your neighbors more often.

It's easiest to talk about love when it comes to customers. We want customers to say they love our products. But it usually stops there. Love doesn't make its way into culture manuals. 

But it's time it should.

Here's a case for it. Research shows that a loving culture (complete with hugs - oh my!) results in higher job satisfaction. Need more proof? When you share personal stories from the heart (love!), you and your employees are more likely to reach your full potential

Where love comes from

We want our employees to say they love their jobs. We want customers to say they love our products. But we leaders need to model love if we want it to take root in those ways. 

For leaders, love can't originate at work. Especially for entrepreneurs, whose heart, soul, talent, and identity is wrapped up in the company we birthed, it can be easy to seek love within the confines of this work, especially since those confines can extend (if we're not careful) to every aspect of our entire life - nights, weekend, dreams, nightmares. We would do better to find hobbies we love, spend time with people we love, read books we love, go to places we love - and bring this to our work - as a model for our teams and customers. 

Secondly, we can all work on saying the word "love" more. Perhaps we should bandy it about like my sixth-grade peers did, allowing for the seriousness to sink in a bit. Yes, love is serious business. So is work. Why shouldn't the two meet? If anyone is going to tie them together (work and love) it should be those in charge. 

No; you can't make anyone love anything by sheer force of will. But you can create something wonderful that speaks to our collective human drive to share and give love. And whether it's a workplace or a solution to a problem that someone will pay for, love can show up there. 

Love is serious, but it's also a force that can't be stopped. When it grips you - or your team or customers - it'll take your work to new heights. But its authenticity must be palpable, like Mary Oliver (who writes beautifully about life and love) notes:

Not anyone who says, “I’m going to be
  careful and smart in matters of love,”
who says, “I’m going to choose slowly,”
but only those lovers who didn’t choose at all
but were, as it were, chosen
by something invisible and powerful and uncontrollable
and beautiful and possibly even
unsuitable —
only those know what I’m talking about
in this talking about love.

If you want to create products people love and a place people love to work, don't go about it slowly. Race headlong into a life of love yourself and watch everything that love touches transform anyone who comes into contact with it.

Sam DavidsonComment
What Leaders See

"Da-Da!" she nearly screams at me as we're strolling home. "Do you see me?"

"Yes," I try to convince her for what feels like the hundredth time. "I see you walking on that wall."

And then, lest she forget, I add, "I always see you."

And so it goes on the weeks I have my daughter and we walk home from her school. The route normally takes me 10 minutes, but we stretch it to half an hour when we're together, mainly because every stone wall is a jungle gym, every pine cone must be counted, and every cloud already looks like something else. 

All this she takes in and openly discusses with me. (Urban walks can excite the imagination like no other in both adults and children, which is why I'll never move to the suburbs.) And I fight hard my reflex to complain. After all, in a few years' time, she won't want much to do with me, I imagine. That's because then, she'll want to be seen by someone else.

But what my daughter doesn't fully realize now is that I see her. Since she arrived on the planet, I've seen much of what she's done, from spitting up to dance recitals, from first encounters with Mickey Mouse to art that covers my fridge. This seeing is second-nature to parents; we focus on our children because we love them and want to protect them. Evolution and biology have thankfully teamed up to make it natural and desirable to see what our kids are up to.

But what about leaders? What do we see?

Leaders see people

At a recent CEO roundtable, one participant threw out a question to get us started: "What are you focusing on these days?"

These monthly gatherings of peers are designed as safe spaces where a handful of entrepreneurs and leaders get together for an hour or so and discuss the ups and downs of our businesses. We share ideas, ask questions, lament, celebrate, and offer challenges. I always leave refreshed and with ideas and ways to move forward in my work. 

People began to answer:

"Growing my gross operating margin."
"The new menu roll out."
"Pricing strategy."
"Edits to the employee handbook."
"A cool new marketing idea."

It was my turn. I was about to give my stock answer when folks ask me how Batch is going. I was about to say, "This year is all about inside baseball. So, I'm elbow-deep in financials and performance, working hard to increase the top line 40% while making sure we post an operating profit of 20%." 

But that's a lie. 

Well, not entirely. But it's not really where my focus is, I'm discovering. Yes; I want those results to happen, but I'm learning that one cannot focus on numbers. While this may sound counter-intuitive, I'm learning it's true: when you focus on numbers, you can't focus on your people. And the number one driver of numerical results in a company are its people. People drive numbers. Always. It's never the other way around.

So I called a mental audible and changed my answer.

"I'm focused on my people," I said.

What gets noticed gets improved

Ever since any of us showed up on this planet, we've only ever wanted to be seen. The luckiest of us have been noticed by parents our whole lives. As we got older, friends noticed. Teachers, mentors, or coaches did, too. Then maybe a lover or two. A partner. 

And if we know what it's like to be seen by someone, for someone to take in our flaws and our strengths, both our assets and our liabilities, we understand how life-giving and identity-forming that can be. When we are seen by someone, we know we're not crazy. We're not just some orb floating through planet Earth. We actually live and move and have being. We are because someone else recognizes that we are

Why wouldn't leaders focus first and foremost on people, then? When we see our teammates and employees, we give them the best and biggest motivation to keep being who they are, working hard at what they do, and finding fulfillment in the tasks they perform. And if and when they do their jobs well, top and bottom lines will improve. 

But you can't just look at people. You've got to see them.

This is why when I watch a baseball game, I don't look at a that last play, a groundout to shortstop. I see the third baseman crouch low pre-pitch, hugging the line because this right-handed batter tends to pull the ball. I see the second baseman break for first base when the ball is hit far to his right so he can back up the incoming throw from the shortstop. I see the baserunner from the other team take a hard turn when rounding third just in case said error happens so he can score the go-ahead run. 

I see all this because I love baseball, having grown up playing it. I don't look at the game like thousands of others in the stands. I see the on-field ballet occurring because I know what it's like to do any of those things, to play any of those positions. 

It's why some of you, after watching a touchdown run, notice how the left guard opened up the hole for the running back to dart through and break lose. We look at the end zone dance; you saw the war in the trenches. 

It's why I look at a plate of tasty tacos, but you see the delicate work of the chef to shave those radishes just thinly enough to add a kick of flavor without detracting from the signature mole sauce. 

It's why I look at a fun play on stage, but you see the blocking done by the director so the lead gets to her spot downstage just as the song crescendos and we can all feel the emotion as if it's our own while she belts out her lament in the second act.

It's why leaders can't just look at who showed up at work today. We've got to see the humanity in front of us, the ones who will be serving our customers and our clients. These people are mothers and sons, friends and volunteers, dreamers and the heartbroken. And to think that we as leaders can see them as anything less - or that our focus should fall anywhere else - is an oversight that will ruin our company.

Leaders must be willing to be seen

But leaders aren't the only ones doing the seeing. Eye contact works both ways, you know. 

For the longest time, I was drawn to leadership roles and opportunities due to both natural abilities and natural fears. Yes; I've got a higher tolerance for risk than most, a dedicated (and maybe genetic) work ethic, and a willingness and fearlessness to stand up and speak out. But I've also long thought that being out front meant that no one would notice me there.

The irony.

This is a logical failure of the highest order. Those out front get noticed the most - that's a byproduct of being out front! But I believed that if out front, people would only notice the endearing qualities that made me a leader while I'd be working hard to hide all my shortcomings so no one would see them.

But, of course, this isn't how seeing and noticing works, at least in any authentically human sense. If we want to be fully seen, in that life-giving way I've mentioned above, then we have to be willing to be totally exposed so that our people can take in all that we are. 

And this is scary. But it's also the foundation of real relationship, real community, real teamwork, and real success. It's like walking a tightrope - frightening as hell but there's no exhilaration in standing on the platform just thinking about it. 

I remarked to my friend last weekend during a consulting session, "I'm trying to come up with a metaphor...hang on." And after some more quiet deliberation, I added, "I've got half a metaphor. .... Which means I've still got no metaphor at all."

Being seen is the same. If we only want someone to notice part of us, then they miss us entirely. We have to show all of who we are, or else no one will notice anything. This puts us in a figurative blind spot: we're out here, moving and living and doing, but no one can see, especially those we most deeply want to take note of what we're up to. 

But! There's a way out. And it can start with those closest to us - friends, lovers, parents, confidants. If we're willing to indulge them and allow ourselves to be seen by them, we'll experience the relief and affirmation that comes with someone who sees all of us and doesn't run. Who takes in exactly who we are, warts and all, and stays. 

It's natural to think that our actual self won't line up with their perceived version of us. But quickly this will be dispelled when you learn their perception of you was never perfection. It was authenticity. So the energy you (and I) spent trying to present perfection time and again can now be directed toward somewhere else.

Like seeing people. And letting them see you. 

Leading is seeing.

Sam DavidsonComment
Enough (Just Enough)

Beware the deceit that comes with telling ourselves that soon, we'll be __________ enough.

It's easy to fall into this trap. Into thinking that once we're smart enough, we'll get the job. Or when we're sexy enough, we'll get the girl. When we're skinny enough, we'll be happy, when we're brave enough, we'll set the record straight, or when we're ready enough, we'll decide to start a family. 

Adding an adjective to our primary human task of being enough for ourselves is heaping extra work on an already full task list. The daily routine of breathing and moving and working and loving is full enough; why run ourselves ragged with expectations too great for us to live up to?

For a very long time, I lived into the self-created myth that I had to be good enough to...well...you name it: speak to large crowds, be the right kind of dad, earn someone's love or respect, grow a company, belong, manage others, be deserving of accolades or praise. 

This pursuit came to a screeching halt recently when a friend asked me what I meant by "good enough." She wanted a definition. After all, if that was my standard, where exactly was the bar set, she inquired? 

Opening my mouth to answer, only silence remained. I couldn't define it. I couldn't articulate exactly what it was I was chasing. Surely if I'd spent so much time trying to grasp a particular benchmark, I could at least define it. Otherwise, how would I know when I'd arrived? 

This is what I hear about extremely wealthy people (I'll let you know if it's true when I become one). I hear that even if they have millions upon millions in the bank (or billions, even), they want more. There is a continual chase for as many dollars as possible because the moment they have more than they have now, they still desire more. The finish line of rich enough just keeps moving.

"How silly!" I smirk to myself as I run my life's race, blind to the fact that my own standard of "good enough" is also staying two steps ahead at all times.

Hotel Notes

When I travel and sleep in a hotel, a new ritual I've developed is one I track on Instagram with the tag #hotelnotes. I write a short note of encouragement or challenge and leave it in the nightstand. I photograph this note and remark where it can be found. A few other travelers have caught on and contributed as well.

My hope is that knowing how isolating and lonely travel can be, perhaps at the right time someone will find a note and remember that they aren't alone. That they're on the right track. That they have what it takes to keep going.

Here's the first note I ever wrote:

Enough. No adjectives necessary. Adjectives are meant to enhance and embellish. But here is the exception to that rule. 

Enough is enough. When you add to it, you actually end up with less. Here's what I mean:

  • Good enough devolves into a lifestyle of performance, hiding your true self from any one you meet.
  • Thin enough devolves into the pressure to eat less and less until you develop a disorder.
  • Rich enough devolves into a career where income is the goal, rather than meaning or community.
  • Ready enough devolves into a lifetime of waiting on the sidelines, rather than jumping into the fast paced game that is living.
  • Smart enough devolves into hiding in books or measuring knowledge via someone else's testing, rather than by your ability to be out in the world, sharing conversations with those you meet. 
  • Old enough devolves into determining your qualifications based upon an arbitrary number, and not upon your fitness to lead.
  • Young enough devolves into letting someone else have a shot, even if your youthful vim is perfect for the job.

And on it goes until we're paralyzed, watching everyone else work and play and love and move. We think they're __________ enough, but really all they are is enough in their own minds. They're enough to themselves and this enough-ness equates to confidence that bosses and partners and media and friends pick up on, are drawn to, and which forms a point of connection.

The Three Marriages

I just finished reading The Three Marriages by David Whyte. Actually, I devoured it. Whyte's position is that in a full life, each of us has three marriages: to someone else, to our life's work, to ourself. Regardless of formality, understanding who we are in these marriages can determine the health of each. But, most importantly, we can be committed completely to each (and should be) without them detracting from the other. And the more fully we understand each, the more successful we'll be in all three.

By completely understanding ourselves (the good and the bad and then living in tension with these two), we are equipped and able to understand that enough is enough, and that good, smart, ready, or sexy enough is actually a distraction from who it is we are and who it is we must be. 

The chief pursuit is to be ourselves. Not a __________ enough version of ourselves, but our full selves.

Whyte writes, "Like a good relationship, a good work followed by a goodly amount of time always opens up our own character: our virtues and our many, many flaws; a good work like a good relationship always eventually asks us to be bigger than our own wants and desires, to see ourselves in a much larger context than the self that thought it had gained everything it wanted to keep itself safe."

Trying to be __________ enough makes our world smaller. Just trying to be enough makes it bigger than we thought possible.

My friend, the one who trapped me in my "good enough" myth, sent me a copy of The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. It's a reminder I'll keep close by to shock me out of my slow march downward toward __________ enough. 

She writes:

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.

And then she concludes:

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

As leaders, lovers, parents, entrepreneurs, children, and citizens, we have to move beyond using adjectives as excuses. Instead, let's use our very truest selves as reasons to get moving, to get going, to get changing, and to get living.